The Beacon

Blog Tags: Bycatch

Ask Dr. Pauly: What are bycatch and discards?

(Photo: Oceana)

Ocean conservationists talk a lot about "bycatch" and "discards." But what exacty do these terms mean? In each issue of Oceana magazine, fisheries scientist and Oceana board member Dr. Daniel Pauly breaks down a commonly used fisheries term. In the recent issue, Dr. Pauly explains these technical terms and how they contribue to overfishing. 


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Mexican Stingrays: Stranded or Discarded?

Photo: FELIX MARQUEZ/AP

The news is buzzing with stories about more than 250 stingrays that have stranded on beaches in the Mexican state of Veracruz three days ago. Mass strandings of any animal are analyzed carefully to determine if the strandings are indicators of environmental health. However, in the case of the stingrays, foul play is suspected by locals. There are reports that fishermen dumped these rays on the beach when emptying their nets.


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Destructive Fishing Gear Kills 400K+ Seabirds per Year

Hundreds of thousands of seabirds like this critically endangered waved albatross chick are snared and drowned by gillnets around the world every year. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Walls of death.” Gillnets have often been described in this haunting way due to their devastating ability to catch all kinds of fish, as well as sea turtles, seals, dolphins, and even whales. Marine creatures of all sizes and species are indiscriminately snared and drowned in these death traps, and a recent report reveals that even birds are being killed by these sea nets. A study in the journal Biological Conservation reported that fishing vessels that deploy gillnets snare and drown at least 400,000 sea birds around the world every year. The actual figure could be even higher.


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Sawfish Designated as Endangered Species

The unique and magnificent sawfish gained new protections this week. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sawfish have a reason to breathe a little easier today: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has completed comprehensive status reviews under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and has determined that five foreign species of sawfish meet the definition of “endangered” under the Act. Of course, this “victory” is bittersweet: no one is celebrating the fact that sawfish species are endangered, but rather that they now will finally receive the protections they so desperately need to recover their numbers.


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Happy World Turtle Day!


Happy World Turtle Day! While World Turtle Day celebrates turtles that roam both the land and the sea, as well as tortoises, we at Oceana would especially like to recognize the magnificent species of sea turtles that roam throughout the world’s oceans. The seven species classified as sea turtles around the world are truly incredible: most undergo incredible long migrations – some as far as 1,400 miles –between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they nest. Some loggerhead sea turtles nest in Japan and migrate to Baja del Sur, Mexico, to forage before swimming across the Pacific Ocean again to return home! Amazingly, female sea turtles even return to the exact beach where they hatched as babies to nest and lay their eggs.


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It's Endangered Species Day!

The Endangered Species Act protects endangered and critically endangered creatures like this loggerhead sea turtle. Still, there is much work to be done. 

May 17th is the day to show your love for endangered sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and all sorts of marine creatures.  Why? Because it’s Endangered Species Day! Today is the day to learn and share information about your favorite endangered animals and rally support around the creatures that need it most.


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Grins and Fins: Meet the Sociable False Killer Whale

This false killer whale flashes a (real) killer smile. Photo: Doug Perrine/Hotspot Media

American photographer Doug Perrine, 60, captured this priceless image of a false killer whale mid-grin off the coast of Kona, Hawaii.

Less commonly known than the killer whale (or orca), the false killer whale is the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. Growing to 1,500 pounds and up to 20 feet long, the false killer whale looks like no dolphin you’ve seen before. Its small conical head lacks the “beak” we expect in common dolphins, and its flippers have a distinctive hump along the front edge.

False killer whales were first discovered by their fossils in 1843, and were assumed to be extinct. In fact, the species wasn’t discovered alive until fifteen years after the discovery of their fossils. Like the gregarious-looking fellow captured in the photo, false killer whales are intensely social, forming strong social bonds in groups of ten to twenty that belong to larger groups of up to 40 individuals in Hawaii or as many as 100 elsewhere. False killer whales travel and hunt together in broad bands that can be up to several miles wide, and they even share their food with other group members.

Unfortunately, the false killer whale’s population numbers in Hawaii are nothing to smile at – these social creatures have suffered major decline in the last 25 years. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, aerial surveys showed about 400 false killer whales in 1989. More recent studies suggest the number today is closer to 150. As of November 2012, false killer whales were listed as endangered in Hawaii, due in large part to the creature’s vulnerability to be caught as bycatch by tuna and swordfish fisheries. The false killer whales become hooked or entangled in longlines when they take bait off of longline fishing hooks set for Hawaiian swordfish and tuna, a dangerous mistake that often turns deadly.

The future for false killer whales is in danger, but with education, advocacy, and increased respect and protections for these social and gregarious sea creatures, we can give the false killer whale something to smile about.


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Triumphs for Troubled New England Fish

The mythical Atlantic cod. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

We are excited about two big wins this week for the future of fish in New England.

The first is a major legal victory that establishes the first full count, cap, and control fishery in the Northeast. This lawsuit settlement means that the New England groundfish fishery, which catches Atlantic cod, haddock and flounder, among others, must strictly account for how much fish it’s catching and discarding.  Groundfish have been severely overfished, and this new ruling is an important step in establishing more sustainable fishing practices in the region.  

Oceana has been campaigning for years to establish science-based monitoring of this historically overfished region of the U.S. Oceana won a legal victory in 2010 when a federal court ruled that the fishery must demonstrate that discards would be accurately counted, but when it soon became clear that discards would not be adequately monitored, Oceana brought a new lawsuit in 2012.

Secondly, we’re applauding a new set of significantly reduced annual catch limits for two stocks of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.

While all stocks of Atlantic cod have been overfished to alarming levels, the cod populations in these two areas have dropped to dire levels – an assessment earlier this year showed that after 15 years of trying to rebuild these two cod populations, virtually zero progress had been made.

The Gulf of Maine cod population is currently at less than 19 percent of its target level, while the Georges Bank cod population is at 7 percent. The new limits will reduce catches in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank by 77 percent and 55 percent, respectively, in a last-ditch effort to save these populations.

The fishing of groundfish like Atlantic cod is historic, older even than America itself. Atlantic cod has been harvested by U.S. fishermen since the 17th century, and the ocean was believed to be so teeming with cod that one could almost walk across the ocean on their backs.

As is often the case, however, fishing turned into overfishing, with U.S. stocks of Atlantic cod coming dangerously near to commercial collapse in the mid-1990s. Concerted efforts to replenish cod stocks began, but to little avail – a 2011 assessment of Gulf of Maine cod showed that the fish was still being seriously overfished, and was not recovering at an adequate rate.

Unfortunately, this disappointing story is not unique to Atlantic cod; today, 14 of 20 groundfish populations in New England are overfished or experiencing overfishing, making these victories that much more critical for the future of these populations. 


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2012 in Review: Oceana's Top Five Victories

Sharks, like this great white, won several major victories in 2012. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

As 2013 rapidly approaches, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past year at Oceana. Thanks to your support, we were able to achieve more than a dozen major victories for the oceans! You signed petitions to lawmakers and companies, submitted seafood samples and participated in rallies and events, and it made a difference. Here are five of the major victories we won in 2012 as a result: 

1. Alibaba.com stops selling manta ray products

When Oceana discovered that the online international marketplace Alibaba.com was selling manta ray products, we asked for your help in stopping it. Nearly 40,000 of you responded by signing our petition, and Alibaba listened, removing manta ray leather products from the website.

2. Victories for the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle

2012 was a good year for endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtles. We helped establish the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks in continental U.S. waters this year. The government designated nearly 42,000 square miles of critical habitat off the West Coast. The Pacific leatherback was also designated as California’s official state reptile following a bill sponsored and supported by Oceana with the support of thousands of California citizens and more than 30 conservation groups.


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Chile Becomes First Country in World to Protect All Seamounts from Devastating Bottom Trawling!

Coral formations in Juan Fernandez archipelago lie among Chilean seamounts

As you enjoy those last holiday cookies before the New Year comes with its resolutions, we’d love to share one final present for you to enjoy: we are thrilled to announce that last week, the country of Chile became the first in the world to protect all of its seamounts from the devastating effects of bottom trawling! Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless and actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson collaborated in an article published by the Huffington Post to share this excellent news with the world.


Seamounts are underwater mountain ranges that are home to an unbelievable array of sea creatures fed by the nutrient-rich water from the deep upwells. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, where large, heavy nets weighing as much as several tons each effectively clear-cut everything living on the seafloor,  causes more direct and avoidable damage to the ocean floor and its creatures than any other human activity in the world.  Although some of Chile’s seamounts have already been damaged or destroyed by the country’s fishing fleet, the December 20 decision closes any further trawling to Chile’s 118 seamounts until scientists have assessed these and other underwater ecosystems off the coast of Chile.


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